Place branding failures caused by consultants

NEWS FLASH: Around the world, the place branding failure rate is 86%!

Over the past ten years, k629, a place-branding consultancy, has developed a database of more than 5,000 place brands. From that data source, they have found that only 14% of place brands continue a year from launch, meaning the rate of place branding failures is 86%. They estimate cities, countries, and regions spent nearly $75 million on failed place brands.

So, the obvious question is: “Why the place branding success rate is so low?”

There are two reasons why place branding failures are so wide spread. Let’s start with the mistakes that consultants make.

The wrong mindset of ad agencies

Bill Baker, a place-branding guru, draws attention to advertising agencies. He mentions that agencies stubbornly refuse to see the difference between branding a place and a consumer product.

In the minds of advertising executives, the same branding principles that apply to a soft drink would apply to a city. This is the primary reason why place-branding projects fail.

Here is the fundamental difference between a place brand and a consumer brand: Great consumer brands are created outside-in. The driving force behind them is a universal need/want. Consumer brands study the market, identify a need and fulfill it the best way they can. In that sense, their starting point is the consumer.

On the other hand, great place brands are created inside-out. The driving force behind them is an asset. Place brands study themselves; their internal stakeholders, values, and offerings. Only then, they find an audience that would be interested in them. So, their starting point is their cultural and physical assets.

A city could construct a landmark building within a year or two. However, it takes decades to change a city’s culture. As the consultant, you have to work with what you have. Therefore, you cannot build a place brand outside-in. The process should work from inside to outside.

Thinking place branding is a beauty contest

Another mistake of agencies is their tendency to reduce place branding to a beauty contest. A brand is more than a logo: It is what people think of you. It is a bundle of meaning that comes to their minds when they hear your name.

A brand is more than a logo.

Although a yummy logo, smart ads, and beautifully designed visuals are necessary, they are not sufficient to build a great place brand. Successful consultants practice systems thinking.

Focusing on the root causes of failure

The third mistake of consultants is to spend too much time trying to fix things, and too little time promoting the good stuff.

As Diana Whitney and Amanda Trosten-Bloom mention in The Transforming Leadercommunities move in the direction of what they study, what they focus on, and what they talk about with regulatory. Therefore, consultants should focus on what “gives life” to an organization when they are at their best. They should study the root causes of success rather than the root causes of failure.” This line of thinking is called “appreciative inquiry, ” and unfortunately, it is rarely used.

Consultants should focus on what “gives life” to an organization when they are at their best.

Diana Whitney & Amanda Trosten-Bloom

Misidentifying the role of the consultant

Finally, consultants often do not understand what their role really is.

Once, I heard a respectable advertising executive publically stating that his job was to be a ruthless warrior, taking no prisoner until he makes “them” say yes.

Another time, a different advertising executive told me that he perceives his role to be a salesperson, selling ideas. I believe both officials were spectacularly wrong.

In The Mapping the Organizational Psyche, Carol S. Pearson mentions that a consultant can play four archetypal roles: The troubadour, the catalyst, the container and the wounded healer.

The consultant can play four archetypal roles: The troubadour, the catalyst, the container and the wounded healer.

Carol S. Pearson

1. Troubadour

During medieval times, troubadours were travelling musicians or poets. They used to spread stories. In that sense, a consultant could tell a place, what other places are doing and how they are doing. He can also help the place see itself objectively. So, a troubadour consultant could act both as an information source and a mirror.

2. Catalyst

As a catalyst, the consultant could stimulate dialogue, not only internally but also among the city’s past, present and future. Thus, the consultant’s role could be the networker as well as a moderator and an interpreter.

3. Container

Third, a consultant can also act as a container. Change is a long, painful and ambiguous process. During a time of transition places would need someone to draw and maintain safe and secure boundaries since old rules no longer apply and new regulations don’t exist yet. In a way, in this role, the consultant acts as a parent.

4. Wounded healer

Finally, the wounded healer is a type of specialist, who had suffered the same issues that the place is suffering. The consultant could bring empathy and wisdom and act as a caregiver, storyteller and a healer.

Every project is unique. Every client has different needs. By clearly understanding its role, the advertising agency could increase its chance to succeed. MJ Braide once wrote an excellent article on this topic.

On the next article, we will talk about the place branding failures caused by the stakeholders. Our third and last article will focus on human-centred errors.

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12 thoughts on “Place branding failures caused by consultants

  1. Charles Landry has written a great primer called Cities of Ambition. Here are some of the leadership traits of ambitious places and what they need to do well:

    1. Character & Essence
    – Start with values: what is important to them in the long term
    – Look at issues in cross-cutting ways; break down silos
    – Undervalued skills like collaboration and dealing with ambiguity matter more than ever
    – Integrate different perspectives well
    – Challenge the status quo
    – Celebrate imagination and creativity

    2. Courage, tenacity, boldness
    – Assess their situation honestly and recognize that their conditions have changed
    – Open and transparent about overcoming obstacles
    – Tackle difficult problems head on, engage with criticism, can be seen working where the problem is
    – Listen to their constituencies and trust their youth
    – Identify clear new roles and purposes (with strong evidence base)
    – Think forwards, plan backwards

    3. Progressive governance
    – Rethink processes and procedures
    – Administration becomes less controlling and more enabling
    – Evolve rules, financing models and incentives to meet new needs

    4. Far-sighted vision
    – Place possibilities in broader context
    – Leaders explain the direction of travel but leave the plans open; strategic but flexible
    – Build teams and networks; tell story of place and how everyone fits in
    – Experiment and take risks: challenge the accepted canon
    – Identify catalysts
    – Communicate well with real simplicity

    5. Widespread leadership
    – Create strong partnership capabilities; orchestration as a key strength
    – Leadership is taught and shared; inclusive processes; identify barriers
    – Integrative, interdisciplinary thinking
    – Collaborative, good listening
    – Build pride

    6. Sophisticated learning environment
    – Create conditions where people can think, plan and act with imagination
    – Culture of debate and recognition;
    – Non-traditional learning

    7. Harnessing all talents / Diversity and openness
    – Talent attraction
    – Make diversity an advantage
    – culture of inclusiveness
    – Mentoring younger cohorts

    8. Active citizens
    – Activate citizens on mass scale and enable them to participate (co-creators)
    – Create a strong narrative with passion, use past to go into the future
    – Think big, start small to build confidence
    – Go with the grain of their local culture

    9. Hubs and hot spots
    – Creating critical mass for key niches
    – Network incubators

    10. Highlight distinctiveness
    – Promote what’s unique and special
    – Orchestrate local and international events

    11. Measure against the best
    – Ongoing review of best practices (not every 5 years)
    – Interdisciplinary scans (learn from other sectors)

    12. Strategically opportunistic
    – Alert to opportunities

    13. High quality physical environment
    – Encourage collaboration, connectivity

    14. Perception, Brand and Marketing
    – Compelling story of where it’s going

    15. Deliver on promises
    – Get things done!
    – Seek out “game changer” opportunities that can change the dynamic
    – Make invisible assets visible

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